Could Houston Rockets Be a Dark Horse Trade Destination for Rajon Rondo?

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor INovember 18, 2013

WALTHAM, MA - SEPTEMBER 30: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics poses for a picture during media day at the Boston Sports Club in Waltham, Massachusetts on September 30, 2013. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The trade rumors surrounding Rajon Rondo are to be expected, even if they're a little premature.

The Boston Celtics are clearly in the beginning stages of a rebuilding process, and trading Rondo may be the last way to completely clear the decks of bad salary while bringing in other valuable future pieces.  

While it's not hard to see why Boston would move Rondo, finding a team that can offer cap relief, draft picks and young players in return might be a challenge.

The New York Knicks have reportedly targeted Rondo, but it's hard to imagine they could offer a package that could fulfill all of general manager Danny Ainge's requirements.

The Knicks don't have an available first round draft pick to trade until 2018, and while Iman Shumpert is a nice player, he's hardly good enough to anchor a trade on his own.

The Knicks almost certainly lack the assets to pull off a deal for Rondo, but there are alternative landing spots being floated out there.

Knicks targeting Rajon Rondo but a Boston deal with Houston (Asik & Lin) makes sense. Ainge, McHale & Daryl Morey all have Celtics ties.

— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) November 17, 2013
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At least from Boston's perspective, dealing with Houston would be much more appealing than moving Rondo to an Eastern Conference foe for pennies on the dollar.

While Houston has plenty to offer in any trade, are they a realistic landing spot for Rondo?

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 25: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks at the Philips Arena on January 25, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
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In Denial

While on the outside it may appear logical to trade Rondo, that doesn't seem to be the stance Ainge is currently taking. Here's what he told Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe:

"Rondo is coming off an injury and I think people know how much we love Rondo, so I don’t expect anybody to inquire, quite honestly," Ainge said. "People know that Rondo is a big part of our future and that we’re not going to trade him." 

"What’s real is, he’s going nowhere," Ainge said. "That’s what’s real."

There's no doubting Rondo's importance to the franchise, or as an asset for Ainge to dangle. So long as Ainge has Rondo, he'll always have a trade chip to negotiate with. Read between the lines of that trade rumor denial, and it's almost as if Ainge is presenting a challenge to other general managers.

The asking price will undoubtedly be very high on Rondo because Ainge can afford to make it that way. Even with that in mind, however, there are bigger issues at play when considering a deal with the Rockets.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 24: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics controls the ball against the New York Knicks on January 24, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Shaky Fit

The prospect of trading for a player coming off an ACL injury should make plenty of teams uneasy, and that doubly true for title contenders.

Of course, there's also the concern that Rondo isn't a player who can just seamlessly fit anywhere. Rondo's deficiencies as an outside shooter are amplified even further for Houston, primarily because it's a priority to surround Dwight Howard with guys who can space the floor and knock down open threes. 

Houston had plenty of offensive success last year relying on pace and space while chucking up a ton of shots from behind the arc, and while there's more than one way to skin a cat, it would seem that Rondo would compromise much of what they do offensively.

The fit next to James Harden is a shaky one as well. Harden is a ball-dominant guard who is at his best in the pick-and-roll, and that would require Rondo to play off the ball for long periods of time, where he's essentially a non-factor. 

Would Rondo's immense talent help him overcome a questionable fit? It's very well possible, but if Houston is making an all-in push of assets (young players, draft picks, cap space), it would probably make sense to deal for more of a sure-thing, particularly if there's no discount to be had in a deal for Rondo right now.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 24: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics brings the ball up court against the New York Knicks on January 24, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Declining and Ascending Leverage

Even if Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is interested in Rondo, it would make sense to be patient.

Morey has almost no leverage dealing Omer Asik right now thanks to his trade demands, and that's an important thing to keep in mind when considering a deal for Rondo. Why not wait and see if Rondo gets sick of losing and playing with sub-par players? 

Ainge can say that Rondo is the franchise centerpiece now, but it's not hard to envision a scenario where Rondo either demands a trade or makes it clear that he'll explore his options in free agency after the 2014-15 season.

There will be a window of time where acquiring Rondo could make sense for Houston, but this probably isn't it.

If Boston wants to shed salary in a Rondo deal, which feels like a safe assumption, Houston would have to deal both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to help the Celtics accomplish that. 

Considering how well Lin is playing right now and the continued development of Patrick Beverley, it's hard to find where the incentive lies for Houston. Why deal for a point guard who can't yet contribute that has an asking price that will almost certainly decline as time goes on? What's the rush?

If Omer Asik is the reason to trade now, keep in mind that the Rockets have positional holes elsewhere. Chandler Parsons is headed for a big payday and is an uncertain part of Houston's future, and the power forward spot is far from established as well. 

Rondo's talent may be appealing, but the Rockets have moved on from the days of just needing a superstar at all costs. A player's fit matters as much as anything else now, and that combined with Boston's asking price should be enough reason to keep Rondo to the Rockets from becoming a reality. 

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